Thanks, in part, to a BBC drama, there is now growing awareness of a relatively new criminal offence called coercive control, a form of emotional and psychological abuse thought to affect many relationships.
This often hidden and lesser known form of domestic abuse was highlighted recently in the Radio 4 series, The Archers, with a storyline featuring the plight of Helen Titchener and her emotionally abusive husband Rob.
The drama followed how, in a campaign of systematic humiliation sustained over years, Rob slowly chipped away at Helen’s self-esteem, self-respect and independence to leave her a shadow of the person she had once been.
What is coercive control?
The new law on coercive control was introduced in December 2015 after a Home Office consultation and can carry a jail term of up to five years.
By definition, it is debilitating abuse which includes a pattern of threats, humiliation and intimidation as well as controlling behaviour like stopping a partner from socialising, restricting access to financial resources, monitoring their social media use and telling them what to wear. The threat of violence is often inherent and frequently a prelude to actual violence.
Low prosecutions so far
The law on coercive control was used only 62 times in the six months after its introduction despite some shocking figures from the Office of National Statistics estimating that 1.4 million women became victims in the year 2013-14.
And although there have only been a handful of convictions under the new law, a statement from the Crown Prosecution Service – made after a 28-year-old man from Liverpool pleaded guilty to the charge of controlling or coercive behavior and also to assault by beating and criminal damage – is telling.
It read: “He rarely allowed the victim to go out alone but when she did he would keep track of where she had gone, including making her keep parking receipts.”
“He continuously belittled the victim and made her believe she needed only him, pushing her family and friends away. He checked her social media accounts and phone messages, and controlled her appearance by telling her what to wear and changing her hairstyle. After one argument [the perpetrator] physically assaulted the victim who escaped and called the police.”
“This behaviour is sadly recognisable as being controlling and coercive. When one person holds more power than the other and creates fear around breaking someone else’s rules, it can strip people of their independence. This is exactly the behaviour that the offence of controlling and coercive behaviour aims to target and eradicate”.